Over a 12-month period the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service underwent 1084 missions attending casualties in the London area. Sixteen patients required an emergency thoracotomy for resuscitation, nine of which were performed at the scene and seven in the emergency department. The median injury severity score of these patients was 29.9 (SIR 11.8) of which 11 had suffered blunt injuries. Medical attention at scene was administered 16.2 min (SIR 4.0) following the London ambulance service receiving the emergency call. Significantly longer time was spent attending patients who had a scene thoracotomy (35.1 min SIR 16.4) compared with those in whom the thoracotomy was performed in the casualty department. No patient in this series survived resuscitative thoracotomy. It is suggested that scene thoracotomy be abandoned and emphasis placed upon the rapid transport of patients to an emergency facility. This enables other resuscitative measures in addition to thoracotomy to be applied effectively and concentrated over a brief period by a multidisciplinary team.